Sports High School Sports

This South L.A. high school football team was rocked by scandal, but it's not giving up

No team in Southern California faced a more daunting challenge this season in high school football than the Hawkins Hawks of South Los Angeles.

A year ago, college coaches such as Jim Harbaugh of Michigan and Clay Helton of USC were showing up to games to see the team’s “five-star” recruits. Hawkins was one of the top teams in the City Section and reached the Division II championship game.

Hawkins sophomore Johnathan Hardwick congratulates rival Los Angeles High School on their win. (Nick Agro / For The Times)
Hawkins senior Marvin Benitez, center, reacts to one of four touchdowns scored by opponent Los Angeles High School. (Nick Agro / For The Times)
Left: Hawkins sophomore Johnathan Hardwick congratulates rival Los Angeles High School on their win. Right: Hawkins senior Marvin Benitez, center, reacts to one of four touchdowns scored by opponent Los Angeles High School. (Nick Agro / For The Times)
The Hawkins defense takes down Los Angeles High School's Jovan Harmon during a game at L.A. High School. (Nick Agro / For The Times)

The offseason sent the program into turmoil. The coaching staff was fired. The team had to forfeit all its victories from 2016 because of ineligible players. Returning players abandoned the program in droves. A newly chosen coach didn’t work out.

Hawkins
Hawkins sophomore Ge'montae Walker, center, and his teammates put their hands together during a game against Los Angeles High School. After making it to last year's City Section Division II final, Hawkins has been winless after a scandal involving ineligible players rocked the school's program. Nick Agro / For The Times

In came Richard Dax Sanchies, who accepted the job of head coach just when practice was about to begin last July. The roster had been decimated, but Sanchies went to work. He worked with students who didn't even play football last season. He discovered other players were ineligible because they needed to improve their grades. Each week, the challenge was immense.

Hawkins High School quarterback Antonio Kates stretches before a playoff game at San Fernando High School. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Hawkins teammates pray for a teamate who was taken by ambulance after a neck injury. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Hawkins ends the season with a 46-0 loss after a playoff game at San Fernando High School. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Players get a pep talk from head coach Richard Dax Sanchies after a scoreless first half against Los Angeles High School. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Clockwise from top left: Hawkins High School quarterback Antonio Kates stretches before a playoff game at San Fernando High School. Hawkins High School football teammates gather and pray for a teammate that was taken by ambulance after a neck injury. Hawkins High School football team ends the season with a 46-0 loss after a playoff game at San Fernando High School. Members of the Hawkins High School football team get a pep talk from head coach Richard Dax Sanchies after a scoreless first half against Los Angeles High School. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times; Nick Agro / For The Times (lower right))

The roster included fewer than 20 players at times. Students had to learn to play multiple positions, let alone how to put on pads. The losses mounted, but the players never gave up. Neither did their coach. The team finished 0-11 this season. Sanchies and his players may have learned more lessons this season dealing with adversity than all of last season when the team was winning games.

“I’m not disappointed in our kids,” Sanchies said. “I’m actually proud of them. I’m very proud to be their coach because a lot of their stories outside of football are amazing.”

Hawkins
Hawkins head football coach Richard Dax stands with his team during the national anthem before a playoff game at San Fernando High School. ( Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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